Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the constitutional challenge to Proposition 8. I sat down to write a blog post about my thoughts on gay marriage and kept writing and writing and writing. You can read the results here.
Like a lot of Latter-day Saints, I have spent a fair amount of time during the last two decades thinking about gay marriage. For better or for worse, it has been one of the main conundrums of Mormon intellectual discussions for my entire adult life. This essay is an attempt to distill my thinking and conclusions. (At least thus far.)
Ultimately, I think that gay marriage is a good idea. I think that recognizing gay marriage has the potential to create stronger gay families and a better environment to grow up in for the children of homosexuals. It also carries within itself the possibility for an ethic of gay chastity, which ultimately strikes me as superior to either gay celibacy or gay promiscuity. I understand that in its fullest religious sense, gay chastity for Latter-day Saints (as opposed to gay celibacy) requires revelation to those with greater religious authority than I, and I am comfortable sustaining that authority. Nevertheless, in my all-things-considered independent judgment, gay chastity is a good idea.
That said, much of the public discussion around gay marriage strikes me as deeply troubling. Gay marriage has emerged as a civil rights issue, for many as the central civil rights issue of this generation. Framing the issue in this way, however, strikes me as mistaken and potentially destructive. The language of civil rights focuses our attention on the ideas of equality, liberty, and legal rights. None of these strike me as very productive or complete ways of thinking about marriage. Marriage is about a hierarchy of family statuses, in which a certain form — marriage — is enshrined as perferable to others. Likewise, marriage is in an important sense about limiting freedom, both by raising the costs of exit and by providing a locus for creating and enforcing social norms that try to constrain behavior. My worry is that entrenching ideas of equality, liberty, and legal rights in our public understanding of marriage will tend to erode it’s social and cultural potency at the margins.
I suspect that in the last two paragraphs I have managed to say something that will strike everyone who has thought about this issue as wrongheaded. Fair enough. Take a look at the essay, however, which does try to provide a more nuanced and complete version of my thinking. A couple of final caveats on the essay. It’s not meant as a work of scholarship or legal advocacy. Hence the absence of footnotes and other scholarly apparatus. It is also not meant as a manifesto or as my own Luther-before-the-Diet-of-Worms moment, two genres of internet writing of which I am not a fan. This is just my attempt to get straight on my own thinking. I pass it along for what it is worth: